Posted by Adam Lee
In case you haven’t been following along, Harvey Steiman, James Laube and I have been talking about ripeness in some of our recent blog posts. Jim started the discussion by talking about how ripeness shows itself in a number of different wines. I then talked about the factors we take into consideration in deciding whether or not grapes in a vineyard are ripe. But Harvey really brought it all home in his blog when he discussed grapegrowing and how this affects ripeness.
Dianna and I are perhaps an odd pair to talk about vineyard practices in that we don’t own a single acre of grapes. We purchase all of the grapes that we use for both Siduri and Novy. But over the years, we have been able to develop some fantastic relationships with some extraordinary growers, and this has allowed us a surprising level of involvement in the growing of the grapes we purchase. Here are a few practices we are pursuing in some of our vineyard sources this year and how they are working out so far:
• At both the Pisoni and Garys’ vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands, we had Mark Pisoni and Gary Franscioni prune our sections in the vineyards later than in previous vintages. Generally speaking, the later you prune the later the fruit ripens. The goals here were to push the usually earlier-ripening Pisoni Vineyard later into September when the odds drop for a prolonged heat spike and also to delay the ripening in the lower section of the Garys’ Vineyard (which is usually the first part of that vineyard to ripen). This strategy seems to have paid off at the Garys’ Vineyard; we picked the upper section of the vineyard on Saturday, but the lower section is still hanging at lower sugar levels. Unfortunately, this experiment didn’t, perhaps, lead to the results that we wanted at the Pisoni Vineyard. The prolonged heat spell at the end of August/early September caused virtually all of the Pisoni Vineyard to ripen within a fairly narrow window.
• In half of the Big Block section of the Pisoni Vineyard, we removed 25 percent of the shoots. In the other half, we left the normal two shoots per position. Many of you have undoubtedly heard of reducing yields and concentrating flavors by removing clusters from the vine. We decided to take this a step further and remove some of the shoots. There were several reasons we made this decision, including cluster compensation; when we just removed clusters, the remaining clusters seemed to grow significantly larger, negating some of our work. Also we hoped to get more light into the canopy earlier, and the already poor soil conditions at the vineyard allowed us to remove these shoots without getting excess growth in the other shoots. This is the second year that we have performed this experiment, and we are tracking the results closely. Thus far, we have seen slightly higher sugar levels but significantly higher acid levels in the section with fewer shoots. We are also measuring the differences in phenolics in the juice and will continue to track this as the wines evolve.
• Up in Oregon's Willamette Valley, we were very concerned about getting the fruit ripe. An incredibly cool spring and early summer led to the vines running a good month behind normal. So we decided to take a chance in a good portion of several of our vineyards and reduce the crop to one cluster per shoot before flowering. If the weather had proven to be problematic during the flowering process, we could have lost virtually all of the crop. But the situation was worrying enough that we went ahead and took the chance. The verdict is still out on this decision as the fruit is still about a month away from harvest.
These are just a few of the things we are trying in our vineyards to improve quality and to get the fruit to fully ripen while maintaining moderate levels of sugar and higher levels of natural acidity. We are also working with growers on irrigation plans, longer term strategies on how to deal with leaves, potential netting that provides shading, and a host of other things.
The greater point, really, is that Harvey is correct that there are a number of things we should be trying in the vineyard to improve fruit quality and balance. But remember that vineyard experiments only show results once a year and trials often need to be repeated over and over to fully demonstrate results. Just because you haven’t heard of major vineyard changes doesn’t mean that they aren’t happening–they may simply be a work in progress.
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — September 16, 2008 10:48am ET
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